Posts tagged automotive internet sales
The Terminator franchise has been one of the most successful entertainment series in history, ranking up with the Toy Story trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are Amish, and haven’t seen the Terminator, it starts in the near-future where an artificial defense intelligence system becomes self-aware. After the scared military operators tried to pull the plug, the system (Skynet) decides that humans pose a threat, and summarily launches a nuclear assault on humanity. It’s just the type of stuff you want to talk about with your kids before bed. I’ll be back to the Terminator reference in just a bit.
As with last year, SXSW Interactive had some real face-melting presentations. Whether it was in the title or not, geolocation, virtual display of reality, speech recognition, gesture input, and artificial intelligence pervaded many of the sessions. What this means is that location-based services are about ready to go into overdrive. Although, I know a lot has been written regarding location-based services (LBS), including a recent piece by Joe Webb and DrivingSales’ Eric Miltsch, I got to hear about the future of these services from those who created them. I’m here to tell you, those services are not as simple as they seem.
At face value, these applications look like games, or a means to get hammered with your friends in Vegas. However, most of these tools have already moved beyond the game element, and are starting to drive value for retailers. The key thing you need to understand is that these platforms that we are using today are not permanent. The current technology still cannot support the true potential. Most of the LBS technology we are using today will be obsolete in a matter of months, and will be utterly antique within a decade. The millions of users who use LBS technology everyday will continue to jump from platform to platform because they find it valuable. So while I won’t get hung up on the platforms or the different services, I will tell you this: If you are not using LBS, you will be ignored.
Why would I make such a bold statement? The answer is simple: In just a matter of months, augmented reality hardware will be widely available. For those of you who have seen the Terminator, you will soon have the means to see like the Terminator. You will be able to scan objects by simply looking at them, with relevant data popping up in your vision to help you make decisions. Military jets have utilized this technology for a few decades, projecting critical data onto heads-up displays, and even a few cars have adopted this technology. Soon services such Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Wolfram Alpha, and Foursquare, can, and likely will, supply their data directly onto your eyeball. People won’t just see a car lot anymore – they will see OEM information, vehicle data, pricing matrices, incentives, customer comments, and ratings – all without lifting a finger
Before you quit your job, realize that this technology can also be used to your advantage. Remember that CRM your manager has been bugging you about? What if that technology was leveraged in an augmented reality environment? Imagine if a customer’s name, current vehicle, time of last interaction, service visit frequency, website activity, family information, etc., appeared right next that customer as soon as you looked at them. How much easier would your job be? Would you start taking better notes if the information would automatically be recalled later? Would you terminate skating coworkers? I bet you would.
The good news for some, and the bad news for others, is that augmented reality will be available to the masses come Christmas time. Google will be offering glasses that will be connected to your Android device, and will project its Places and Latitude data into the users field vision at the end of the year. Other hardware and software is being evaluated, and will available next year. Contact lenses offering the same technology have already been tested, and will soon follow. Even without the glasses, there are already enough smartphones for nearly every man, woman, and child in the world, and the technology exists to automatically display alerts on those phones. The Internet age is just hitting its stride.
How do we prepare for this onslaught the future? By being better today. Claiming your dealership’s Foursquare/Places/Yelp/etc. location is the first step, and frankly it’s not enough. Understanding the users behavior is the next, and most crucial, step. Even without adding users as friends, you can still gather data about their destinations, achievements, tips, and how many friends they have. If you are able to “friend” them, you can uncover more useful information. Understanding how to navigate this information will allow you to see how your customers interact, what they may say about you, and find out how loyal they are to other businesses. All of this information needs to recorded. Right now people have to take the time to gather information about your dealership. YOU must begin capturing just as much data and developing just as much software before you get overrun as it will be the only thing to save you in the future. There is no avoiding it. Take advantage of today’s technology before customers can gather information automatically, tomorrow.
Ignoring technological advances does not make them go away. Consumers take advantage of new technologies every single day. They buy a car every three years. By not embracing these changes, you accelerate the way these changes impact your business. You have created several opportunities for other companies to exploit your desire to keeps things the same. Don’t let the machines beat you. Take every opportunity to learn about new technologies on your own. Use change to your advantage. As it is with the Terminator, technology will just keep on coming. You can’t stop it.
We have already established that communication via telephone is not the most natural form of communication. That being the case, I have heard hundreds of salespeople ask questions that have nothing to do with the task at hand (setting an appointment). Before you ask a customer a question over the phone, first ask yourself this: “Does the answer to this question get me any closer to an appointment?” Here are the top 5 questions NOT to ask an inbound sales call.
Your top sales people have spent their careers fine-tuning their selling skills. Since communicating over the phone is so unnatural for some, they simply default to the sales skills in which they have experienced success with. I hear them say a lot of things that would be best said on the showroom floor. They tend to steer the conversation into a place that is comfortable for them. I have noticed the skill set employed by these sales people seems to be the presentation of the vehicle. With a customer on the floor, giving a detailed vehicle presentation and demonstration would only make sense, after all it is one of the components that pave the way to a sale; That said, it’s pretty pointless over the phone. Reading a mundane list of features, or even worse, a build sheet, to someone over the phone is boring. Obviously, those details are far more impressive to see than to hear. I realize the vehicle description is not a question, but it’s still not something that is going to get you any closer to an appointment.
Generally, after a salesperson has read off a list of details, I hear them ask the customer: “Does this sound like something you would be interested in?” This leads me to the second pointless question: “Does this sound like something you are interested in? Considering the fact that 86% of people end up buying a vehicle other than the one they initially inquired about, the answer to this question isn’t going to make a difference as far as an appointment is concerned. On the showroom floor, the answer would lead to paperwork, and ultimately a sale. On the phone, it only leads to awkward silence.
Number three on the list of worst questions to ask a customer: “Is this going to be for you?” These days, it’s pretty common for a someone to employ a friend or family member to call a dealership and inquire about a vehicle on their behalf for any number of reasons. Mostly, because the potential buyer is afraid of; or is intimidated by, “car sales people”. Either way, the buyer, who has asked their Dad to call your dealership, has decided you need to sell Dad before you can sell them. So, untrained salespeople ask the caller this pointless question hoping for what? How do you plan to proceed with the conversation with a yes or no answer? Asking the caller if the vehicle is for them is not going to get the buyer on the showroom floor any faster or easier. When I hear a sales person ask this question, all I can think of is that they are afraid they may have to do more work. Guess what, it’s your job, so get to work! Assume the person on the phone is the buyer and sell the appointment. Sure, you may have to sell an entire extended family on an appointment before you get a chance to sell the buyer, but the one willing to go the extra mile will get the sale.
Number four on the list of Worst Questions is also a sign you have a lazy salesperson: asking about credit scores, or financial situations. It’s too soon! Let me set a scene for you. During a call, something is said that gives the salesperson the impression that the caller has poor or no credit. Something like: “I need a payment under $150 a month” or “Do I need a cosigner for that $129 a month lease I saw on TV?” Once the salesperson has used their magical mind reading skills and decides within 20 seconds that there is no way this caller could EVER buy a car, they set themselves to the task of talking the customer out of visiting the Dealership. There is no way on earth you can determine whether or not a person can buy a vehicle without that person in front of you on the showroom floor. Nor can you convince them to do anything such as borrow money for a down payment, or ask a friend or family member to cosign for them if there is no value built in the vehicle. If you have this potential customer in front of you, you can develop deeper rapport with them and advise the customer to go to any of these measures. The customer will also have more emotion for a particular vehicle once they have been given a full vehicle demonstration along with a demo ride. You need to have the attitude that you are going to sell a vehicle to every single caller, regardless of the potential obstacles you may have to overcome along the way. Most importantly, you can’t sell them anything unless you’re able to sell an appointment first.
Finally, topping off the list of the 5 worst questions to ask a phone up is: “When are you looking to buy this thing?” Asking this question is a great way to get a customer to put their guard up. It puts pressure on them and causes them to distrust you. Assume and proceed as if the caller is planning on buying today. If they are asking for a price on a new vehicle, quote them with the price of the car today, even if it is the last day of the month and you know incentives or finance rates are due to change tomorrow.
You should always have a reason as to why today is the best day to buy. The reason doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to price either. Perhaps you are having a big sale today, or your manager is in a FANTASTIC mood today, or you are giving away free oil changes today. There is an average of 30 days in a month, so try to come up with 30 reasons as to why today is the best day. This way, you also have a reason to follow up with a customer until they make a purchase. Keep yourself focused on an appointment on the phone, and save those great sales skills for the showroom floor.
It occurs to me regularly that many times we are rewarded in the life for things that we may or may not deserve. We slip into a close parking spot after someone just drove by it. We get pulled over for speeding and avoid a ticket. We use gambling winnings to pay down debt. In many situations we can do everything wrong, but in the end, we still receive a reward for our actions.
I equate this activity to the way airlines treat air travel. When you boil it down, the airline’s job in the equation is to get you to a destination (it doesn’t have to even be the one on your ticket), alive and unscathed. It doesn’t matter when you get there, or even how you get there. Wherever “there” may be, if you make it, the airline chalks up a W.
What happens to you, personally, physically, or emotionally, doesn’t really matter in the equation. If you have to wait three hours longer than intended to board the plane, it doesn’t matter. If they run out of water on the flight, it doesn’t matter. If your connection is cancelled, requiring a day or more of layover, it doesn’t matter. If your luggage is lost, it doesn’t matter. If you have a nervous breakdown on the flight, as long as you don’t appear to be a threat, it doesn’t matter. As long as the plane takes off and touches down without disintegrating in the process, the airline chalks up a W. The passenger chalks up an L.
This same scenario, albeit less dramatic, takes places every day at car dealerships around the nation. Despite dropping the ball repeatedly throughout the entire sales process, if a vehicle (any vehicle) rolls over the curb, it’s a W. Like the airline passenger, it doesn’t matter how the customer was treated, how many members of the staff they had to talk to, how much money was lost throughout negotiation, how many “promises” had to be made throughout hours of back-and-forth, if a transaction was made, sales people are slapping high-fives and exchanging back pats.
I refer to this is as “just get ’em in” syndrome. By the simple act of convincing a potential client to come down to the dealership, if the collective effort of the dealership sells them a car, it is somehow a victory, no matter the pretenses. “Just get ’em in” syndrome has been stunting the growth of Internet operations since day one.
For many, the initial draw of the Internet side of the business is the precision of the numbers, and the perceived scalability of operations. Unlike walk-in traffic, demand can be predicted, and even supplemented if need be, to maintain a relatively steady stream of interested parties. Advertising sources are plentiful, and direct actions can be attributed to impressions. Every month’s activities can be broken down and analyzed to look for deviations in patterns. It has always been imagined to be a sales machine.
If an Internet sales strategy is executed properly, it should act as a sales machine. However, with all of the capabilities the Internet has to augment any dealer’s business, like a machine, it’s only as precise as the quality of its components. If a machine is working properly, it repeats the desired results, over and over, with little deviation in quality. When the individual parts inside the machine begin to fail, the repetition of desired results begins to fail. Some consider maintenance vital, and proactively fix or replace components to preserve precision. Some use duct tape and a magic marker to mask results. Some use bonus miles to apologize for rude flight attendants. Some just get them in the door.
If your dealership truly wants to be successful on the Internet, it should stop focusing on the final destination or the end product, and instead focus on what it takes to get there. If you’re thinking in terms of machines, think about all of the actions it takes to create a perfect widget. Think of all of the precise measurements, the wear and tear on tooling, and the sequence of inputs workers have to make. If everything falls within spec, you have successful results day-in and day-out.
If you’re thinking in terms of air travel, think about a free entrance to the Platinum Club. Then, think about a free upgrade to first class, an on-time departure, and an early arrival. When you deboard the plane, the senior pilot then offers you a sincere thanks, and a firm handshake. Think about everything going better than expected. As a passenger, everything went the way you wanted it. For once, it’s you who gets to chalk up the W.
If you happened to study business in college, or are a corporate strategy junkie, you’ve probably heard of Michael Porter. If you haven’t heard of him, Porter is an esteemed Harvard Business School professor, served on Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, authored nearly 20 books (Amazon carries thirteen of them), and has published countless articles. Most would agree that Porter’s prophetic work has laid the foundation for the last 30 years of competitive strategy. I’d have a poster of him on our bedroom wall if my wife would let me. While Porter’s work has spawned numerous books, essays, and academic articles, I want to concentrate on one key piece: core competency.
Simply put, a company’s core competency is what only that company can do best. Ideally, this particular factor is not easily imitated by its competitors, and can be leveraged widely through many products, in many markets. For example, ADP was able to adapt its payroll technology it developed in the 50s for use in multiple industries, in multiple markets, and plays an integral roll (like it or not) in the car business. The better a company understands and develops its core competency, the more dominant position it will have in its market.
A lot of things happened long before you got into the car business. Slow, unreliable, cars made a dealership on every corner practical during the time franchise laws were written. An onslaught of foreign competition flooded the markets during the seventies because the domestic car business wasn’t prepared for rampant inflation and a decade of oil crises. The widespread suburban sprawl of the last twenty years has only paved the way for upstart competition that never existed across town. Oh, and that Internet “fad” happened, too. You can’t count on your location, your OEM, or having the most/newest/cheapest/bestest cars in town. In a 100-year-old business, it’s all been done before.
What hasn’t been done before? You.
You are an individual. You’ve collected years of rich life experiences that make you unique. Nobody can replicate you (scientifically, maybe, but not your personality), just like you can’t copy anyone else (unless you want to be known as a fraud). You are not the cheapest available option (and neither is Apple, Nike, Ducati, or John Deere, by the way). You have values, you add value, and people gravitate towards you because you possess certain qualities. Understanding these qualities not only allows you to transact with customers, but it will allow you to mentally connect with them, as well.
Many of us fall into the of trap copycatting. We feel that if we follow in the footsteps of someone we know, or a brand we admire, we can achieve the same success. How did Microsoft do with the Zune (you’ll never get that $200 back)? How’s IBM’s PC business working out for it (congrats, Lenovo)? How’s Buzz doing for Google (that buzz you hear is Twitter laughing)? Even the best companies can fall short when they fail to connect with the customer by straying too far from what they do best.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s easy to read articles, attend webinars, attain OEM certifications, and comb through blog posts. Reading and retweeting the latest Seth Godin or Guy Kawasaki post only takes two clicks. Simply following the pack doesn’t create any hurtles for someone who just wants to copy you. In fact, it makes it much easier for them to follow. If everybody is following best practices, you aren’t creating any distinction to set yourself apart to the customer.
Instead, use best practices to create a foundation for you to build on. Understand the philosophy of the author or presenter. Frame it in the context of who they are, where they’re at, what they know, and more importantly, what they stand to gain. Now focus it through your lens. Apply it using your words, your emotions, your experiences, your research, to your customers, in your market. Measure your results (every variable you can think of, not just what’s required), and discover where you excel. Use these strengths as the bedrock on which to build your core competency.
Unfortunately, Michael Porter is too busy solving global issues (seriously) to turn his attention to the auto business. It doesn’t mean you can’t. Understand those qualities that your competition can’t emulate. Don’t count on someone else to carry you to success. Dedicate yourself to recognizing and measuring your strengths to feed your core competency. Be proud of what you do. Blaze a trail that no one can follow, create an unbreakable bond with your customers, and build a fortress that no one can knock down.
High School was a difficult time for most people. What wasn’t important just a few years prior, becomes essential in just days. It’s a time when we become aware of who we are, and who we want to be. It’s when we realize, that despite our misgivings, we want to be popular.
When I was growing up, your shoes could either make you, or break you. There was a general hierarchy of shoes, with the generic pleather shoes on the bottom, and the high-tech, athlete endorsed offerings on top. If you weren’t wearing Nikes, you were just on fringe. If you were at the pinnacle of popularity, you were wearing Air Jordans.
What many kids came to realize, is that simply wearing a pair of Air Jordans did not miraculously transform them into the most popular kid in school (or a star basketball player, for that matter). Yes it may have given them access to the upper ranks, but it didn’t necessarily guarantee them the hottest girl in school. Because of this, some kids only owned one pair of Air Jordans.
In the retail car business this same mentality exists. There is this attitude that because someone in the twenty group is having success with a vendor, that everyone in the group can repeat that success elsewhere. Although a pair of Air Jordans might have taken you from zero to hero as a kid, buying the best technology can’t.
Popularity, like many other attributes, depends on many variables. Your parents’ social status, general attractiveness, athletic ability, and intelligence all played a roll in how your classmates looked at you. The same holds true for your dealership. If your parents owned the dealership, that’s going to play a roll in your success. The image your brand portrays is also going to play a roll. The dynamism of your staff to quickly move to beat opponents is going to play a roll. Your ability to utilize the collective knowledge of your team is going to play a roll. Understanding these variables, and many others, are going to contribute greatly to your accomplishments. As hard as you may try, you can’t buy popularity, just like you can’t buy success.
Before you sign another contract, think about your life as an adult. Did you have to buy a pair of Ferragamo’s to become successful? Are you losing track of how many vendors you are contracting and canceling? Have you realized that there is no such thing as a magic bullet, or is there a pair of $125 tennis shoes sitting in the corner of your room that you outgrew after six months? Mars Blackmon was wrong. It wasn’t the shoes.
As many of you already know, my wife and I welcomed our second son into this world during the third week of January. Although he was considered a full term baby, he wasn’t quite ready to leave the warm confines of mama’s belly. A short time after he was born, I carried him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he stayed for eleven days learning the subtle intricacies of breathing and eating. Although the hospital was quick to assure us that this was “normal,” it didn’t make it any easier (the hospital ranks among the top 100 in the country, so who am I to argue). After a week of slow progress, he suddenly turned the corner for the best, and was able to join us at home shortly thereafter.
If any of you have had to spend an inordinate time at the hospital, it becomes abundantly clear how much today’s medical professionals depend on technology. With just a few sensors, hospital staff can measure almost all of the body’s functions at just a glance. Barcode scanners are used to monitor all patient records, banking who did what, when, into a central database. As an efficiency aficionado, I was awestruck by the precision.
In the time between chatting with the nurses, twiddling my thumbs, and watching newbie sleep, I kept coming back to the use of technology. The doctors and nurses ranged in age from early twenties to early sixties. Like all people, they ranged in disposition and attitude, from bubbly to curmudgeonly. But the one thing that became crystal clear for me is that, unquestioningly, they all used all of the technical tools given to them. Even if it were an option to not use the tools, it was out simply of the question.
Since it’s extremely hard for me to stop thinking about work (remember, I’m one of the weirdos who finds comfort in their job), I kept coming back to the same point in my head: As automotive sales professionals, we have more tools available to us today than at any other point in history. However, unlike the medical professionals I watched everyday, we don’t embrace our new tools with the same fervor. Why is that?!
Now, I’m guessing you’re waiting for me to go off on a “shiny objects” diatribe. I think enough has been written about that already. I’m going to take a different angle.
Think about all of your friends who work outside of the car business (if you don’t have any, think about your parents and their friends). What tools do they use on a day-to-day basis? Now imagine they made a conscientious decision not to use those tools. What would happen? What if the barista decided not to use the espresso machine? What if the soldier refused to carry their rifle? What if the courtroom reporter decided to use a pen and paper, and not a stenotype? What if the desk attendant of the hotel your staying at right now declined to give you a receipt? At least to yourself, you’d probably say that person isn’t doing their job. In fact, you’d probably say something much worse. Why are we any different?
Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to see multiple dealerships from multiple angles. Whether it’s handling a dealer trade on the retail side, implementing a new technical solution on the software side, or side-by-side with a dealership partner on the consulting side, the expectation is not clear from the top-down on how technology is to be implemented inside the dealership. Despite the commitment of thousands of dollars, month-in, month-out, there is no true mandate to use the technical tools that are made available. The problem is further exacerbated by the lack of monitoring, and the lack of consistent training of these tools. If rules governing facial hair are in the employee handbook, why aren’t there rules governing the use of technology?
Let’s take the customer relationship and lead management tools for instance. We know the burden of proof the vendor get puts under by the dealer. We know the financial burden the vendor puts on the dealership. What burden is being put on the staff to fully utilize this tool? From what I’ve seen over the past decade of participating in the car business, it’s tantamount to throwing the keys to a Ferrari to an eleven year old and telling them to have fun. Without the proper experience and training, it’s a recipe for disaster resulting in wasted money and broken hearts.
Whether it’s contact management, pricing tools, analytics services, or employing a whole cadre of consultants, one thing is clear: the act of possessing these tools does not guarantee success. Between world wars, the French committed tremendous resources to constructing sophisticated and impenetrable border defenses along what is referred to as the Maginot Line. And all the Germans had to do is drive around it. With no standard operating procedure, and no set consequences, nothing stops users from circumventing the tools.
In any business, even most dedicated of front-line staff has to know what is expected of them. Whether the policy is to achieve at all costs or follow a systematic method, the folks implementing the process need something to adhere to. Without that clear expectation, front-line managers have nothing concrete to enforce. Without that clear expectation, upper management has no way to objectively hold their managers accountable. With no finger to point with, vendors and front-line staff get replaced, thus lumping additional negative return on investment in terms of set-up fees, hiring, and firing costs. Want to stop the revolving door? Set expectations.
If they’re not already, get your people excited about the tools they have available to them. Create an environment where your employees, like the medical community, seek out new ways to utilize the systems they have available. Proactively ask vendors for training and workshops. Encourage, and even incent, your front-line staff develop standardized processes for using dealer tools. Like the espresso machine, the rifle, and the stenotype are part of the job at other organizations, let your employees know that the tools that are provided are expected to be used to the fullest extent possible. You have the tools to create and monitor success. It’s up to you to not let your business flat-line.
Normally, I have the topics of my blog posts picked out well in advance of posting, however this month I can’t stop thinking about the events that are happening right now. During the last few months of last year, and the first couple weeks of 2011, I’ve been involved in some eye-opening conversations. The subject matter of these conversations is now a matter of public discussion (or amusement?). Whether you’re pointing and laughing, or disappointed, we need to realize that we can be our own worst enemy.
One of the reasons I got involved in the car business is that I wanted to help improve the negative reputation car salespeople have. A variety of polls conducted over the years have shown car salespeople to be viewed among the least honest and ethical of any professionals. While some of the sources are questionable, the granddaddy of pollsters, Gallup has shown in a recent poll that car sales people are tied with lobbyists as the least trusted of professionals. Congratulations us.
I’ll admit it’s bad form to send someone off a blog post before it’s finished, but do me a favor: run a Google image search for car salesman (or just follow this link). What do you see? Is that you? Are you the guy smoking the Grenadier? Are you the guy with the Mr. T gold chains? Are you the guy with the plaid suit? Didn’t think so. Unfortunately, this is how people see us.
So, what are we doing to fix it? Apparently, we’re adding more fuel to the fire.
I’ve certainly seen some questionable car sales practitioners over the years, but I’ve also seen a lot of good ones, too. The funny thing is that you don’t hear much about the good folks. Certainly the nefarious ones have customers who are more than vocal about their dissatisfaction (their customers are friends and family to everyone else, by the way). For some reason or another, you don’t hear much about the sales people with strong moral fiber. Or the sales people, who are youth ministers, involved in 4H, participating in Relay for Life, volunteering at animal shelters, or have served their country overseas. Or how about the professionals who have not only read the blogs, but have developed their own expertise, created their own strategies, and have shared their own success with others. We all work with people like this, or at minimum, have made their acquaintance. Why don’t we hear more about them?
Instead of learning more about exemplary sales people, we get to hear and read about new consultants who seemingly pop out of the woodwork. Unfortunately, the term consultant is a bit ambiguous in the retail automotive world. In the rest of the business world, as well as in health care and the public sector, a consultant typically possesses subject matter expertise and pedigree that is well beyond what can feasibly be attained in-house. Look at the executive leadership of Accenture, Deloitte, and Booz Allen Hamilton, to name a few. These folks are among the very best the world has to offer. Our industry, on the other hand, is wrought with empty-chested, fly-by-night “experts”, who glorify the negative stereotypes, charge exorbitant fees, plagiarize material, and seem to multiply by the month.
This is what I find most troubling. The dealerships who have recognized the need to change, and decided to commit considerable resources to bringing in a consultant have to choose from “experts” who fit the negative stereotypes they need to change. How exactly do you expect to overcome these pejoratives if you continue to contract the same type of people who ruin reputations in the first place? Moreover, how can dealers hire them in good conscience when there are videos on YouTube of them publicly flaunting their jewelry, McMansions, and sports cars?
The true measure of a consultant’s success is not what they have financially accomplished themselves, but what their clients have financially accomplished on their behalf.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I too possess some of the above items. I wear a (1) gold chain, and, from time to time, wear an aspirationally branded Swiss watch. The gold chain (and the gold crucifix that hangs from it) was given to me by my deceased grandfather after I went on a pilgrimage to see the Pope sixteen years ago. I’ve only taken it off for medical reasons. The watch I purchased several years before I was in the car business when I was doing due-diligence at a venture capital firm during the go-go dot-com days. I’ve acquired my fair share of material possessions over the years, but you won’t see me flaunting them on YouTube (you’re welcome). I take far more pride in the results I have achieved on behalf of my clients.
Whether you are new to the business or have been involved at multiple levels for many years, it is our burden to overcome these stereotypes. How do we do that? We can start by:
- Offering consistent and outstanding service.
- Overwhelming customers with honesty.
- Educating customers with information that is not available online.
- Adding so much value that we are indispensable to our customers.
- Sharing personal details about ourselves.
- Participating (regularly) in our communities.
- Supporting causes.
- Hiring manageable people.
- Working with skilled trainers that produce verifiable results.
- Resembling the nurses, military officers, pharmacists, and teachers who have strong professional reputations (and who are our customers).
If we do these things every day, we can surely start to chip away at the negative reputation we’ve given ourselves.
If you want to keep reinforcing these stereotypes, just keep dressing yourself like a Kay Jewelers vomited on you. Keep asking customers if they are calling about the (nonexistent) specials. Keep practicing the underallow/overallow numbers game. Keep on not using your CRM/ILM to capture important personal information. Keep flaunting your material wealth (and general douchebaggery) on YouTube. Keep winking sweet nothings at the camera. Keep promoting yourself as an expert when you haven’t been recognized as one. Keep doing these things… and let those of us who want to be recognized as respected professionals blow right by you.
Like many of you, I have sat through multiple presentations and webinars regarding social media. While some may touch on it, and others may focus on it, the term “brand building” comes up quite frequently. While on the phone with a dealer recently, it occurred to me that a good portion of our peers may not quite understand brand building, and hence, have a hard time applying it in the real world. For social media, this is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
Simply put, a brand is the identity of a business, product, or service. What comes to mind when you think of Coca-Cola? How about Nike? Now maybe Apple? I’ll bet somewhere in your mental imagery, classic white script across a red background came up, along with a swoosh, and a glowing white apple with bite taken out of it. These companies have done an extraordinary job of marketing a consistent brand image, and have created a culture surrounding their businesses. If you need more examples, just walk into your showrooms. You will see brand imagery everywhere.
What comes to mind when you think of your own dealership? (Note: this works best when you think of the positives.) Is it a dedicated, veteran sales staff? Is it consistent OEM recognition? Is it community involvement? What makes your store different from the one down the road? Hopefully, multiple things come to mind. Take those thoughts and jot them down.
Now think about how you want your customers to perceive your dealership. When they think about your store, what images do you want them to conjure up? How are they perceiving your identity on your website’s homepage? If you are drawing a blank, then it’s time to start working on that. Ultimately, it’s up to your business to craft that identity.
I think we are all well aware that Coke, Nike, and Apple have millions of dollars to commit to advertising agencies, not to mention the top-notch marketing talent they have available to them in-house. They are global brands competing on a global scale. Should you aspire to have their type of brand awareness? Absolutely! Do you need their millions of dollars to reach your market of 30,000 people? Absolutely not!
You have the advantage over national advertisers. You understand your own market better than they do. You understand how your closest consumers talk, think, and dress. If you are using your CRM properly, you may even have notes on where people go to church, where their kids attend school, and how much their fifth-wheel weighs. This information is available to you for free!
Speaking of free, those commercials you normally fast forward through are full of free inspiration. Try actually watching some commercials. What messages are you taking away? What tag lines are you hearing? Tune-in the next time you see commercials from mega-brands like IBM, Microsoft, GE, Red Bull, Starbucks, and UPS. Pay extra attention to what your OEMs are advertising and the images they are reinforcing. Take note of the fact they are not advertising “the largest inventory,” “rock-bottom prices,” or “(region’s) number one (whatever)…”
When you are ready to start coming up with brand ideas, talk to others. Bounce ideas off your spouse. Ask your friends. The wider the variety of people, the better. Then, sit down with your coworkers over some pizza and start brainstorming. Try to come up with one sentence that best describes your dealership (or department).
When you feel good about what your network has to say, have the same conversations with your most loyal customers. In fact, take a walk down to the service department and have that conversation with customers while they are having their maintenance performed. Find out if your brand identity is in line with a perceived value (be prepared for the worst). Compare notes. If the messages are the same, fire up the marketing machine. If they are not, you need to dedicate yourself and your teammates to bringing the ideas closer together. This is when you employ brand-building efforts (like social media, video marketing, and dare I say, a TV ad) to distill your message down for consumption by the masses.
Sounds like hard work, right? It can be, but it’s well worth it. Your customers will know what separates you from the competition. You will attract customers who are looking for an alternative to their local dealer. You will create a value proposition beyond price. Best of all, you and your teammates always have a guiding principle to fall back on in times of question. Trust me, you’ll forget about the hard work when you immediately start reaping the benefits. It’s “time to change everything,” “have a Coke and a smile,” and “just do it.”
There have been several great books that have been published about brand building or indirectly touch on the subject of branding. One that immediately comes to mind is the Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for turning Ordinary into Extraordinary, by Joseph Michelli. While it wasn’t written specifically about branding, it caused me to evaluate my business practices and offered some great perspective. It’s a short and compelling study so you should have no trouble finding the time read it. (I read it in one plane trip). If you have some books that have been inspirational to you, please share. Now that the gift-giving holidays have begun, we can add some books to our wish lists.
Like some of you, I am just getting caught up from nearly two weeks of conference action in Vegas. After attending and participating in three conferences (I only know a few who stayed for four!), my head was left full of charts, graphs, concepts, and ideas. Beyond the sensory overload from all of the content, one thing became abundantly clear to me: I was surrounded by people with passion. Pure, unbridled, go-tell-it-on-the-mountain, passion. Hearing people tell their story, wildly gesticulating with their excitement. The enthusiasm was contagious!
Many of us have passions in life. For some, it’s the outdoors. For others, it’s sports. Still for others, it’s working in the garage. You can debate for hours about the best way to rebuild a carburetor. You work tirelessly on your fantasy football team at all hours of the night. You spend weeks scouting out the best place to put a deer blind. You have rooms dedicated to mounted fish, classic Fords, and the New Jersey Devils.
I’m one of the guys who’s extremely passionate about his career. I love what I do! I rarely ever stop thinking about how I can improve processes, discover efficiencies, or make people more productive. I’m bouncing ideas off my friends in the industry all of the time (and they are always bouncing ideas off of me). I know my wife wishes I’d take a break in the evening, but she tolerates it because it’s what I do. I feel like the car business found me and I’m going to give a 100% back.
I know many of you, however, don’t feel that same passion. Maybe you feel like you are stuck in a dead-end job or someone around you constantly drags you down. Well I have bad news for you: your customers can hear it, see it, and feel it. How are they going to tell you “yes” when all they see is ‘no’ ? Unfortunately, the car business is not one of lateral moves. You’re either productive or you’re packing.
If you’re lacking that passion, you don’t need to get a prescription. I’ll leave the pills to Pfizer, Glaxo, and Bayer. I’m merely suggesting you change your outlook on what you do for a living. When asked, I’m guessing most of you would say that you sell cars for a living. I would argue that the sale is the end result of what you do. Before that vehicle puts rubber to the road, rolls over the curb, and starts killing bugs (did I miss any?), you need to sell yourself first. If the customer is not buying what you’re saying, then you have a tall hurdle ahead of you.
So how do you change your outlook? It’s actually pretty simple. Start thinking about what you really do every day. You’re not some robot that picks up the phone, pecks away at the computer, and shuffles papers around. You’re a cheerful voice after a hard day at work. You help people save their hard earned money. You are your own business. You assure people that they are making good decisions. You’re solving people’s problems. You make lasting friendships. In some cases, you’re even helping people achieve their life’s aspiration. You’re not selling cars: You are changing people’s lives!
Now I can hear the skeptics out there now saying that I’ve read too many books (and some other things that can’t be written here). To the naysayers, I say give it a shot. Talk to your customers with the same energy you would talk about college basketball during March Madness. Remind yourself that you are providing a valuable service to people. Sometimes it’s simpler than metrics and technology. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that can make all of the difference. What do you have to lose?
Originally posted 10/6/2010 on DrivingSales.com
For most of us, the fair season has come and gone. As I’m writing this, my son is at the county fair in the rural Michigan town where my wife and I grew up. Like most fairs in the Midwest, it’s all about 4H and Future Farmers of America; kids showing off their pigs, goats, and cows (consequently, my niece’s rabbit is Grand Champion). Like most other fairs in the Midwest, local businesses set up shop, politicians are there to shake hands, and all of the food is available on a stick. The car dealers all come armed with Mustangs, Duramaxes, Chargers, and the omnipresent balloons.
Then there are the carnival rides. Personally, I don’t ride anything that can be assembled overnight. The kids, however, go crazy over them. The one ride that always intrigues me most is bumper cars, or Dodgem, as it’s known in fair parlance. There are always three or four maniacal, fuzzy lipped, teens chasing down a dozen other people. One would think the whole point would be to live out one’s favorite traffic jam fantasy, and just plow through everything that gets in the way. That’s where the intrigue comes in: everyone drives away from each other.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I perform a lot of mystery shopping. One of the biggest fumbles I consistently see is that dealer personnel don’t ask questions in their email responses. Over these last few weeks, I’ve come to realize that most dealer personnel don’t seem to be good at answering questions either. A lot like Dodgem, a customer tries to bump their email into a dealership, only to have his or her efforts dodged.
First, let’s put ourselves in the customer’s comfy shoes. As John and Jane Customer, we work hard for our money and we don’t want to pay anything more than we should. We go to the Gap when things go on sale, and we go out of our way to Costco to get a 55 gallon drum of shampoo to save a few pennies per ounce. When it comes to cars, we are blissfully unaware of dealer allocations, regional option groups, and targeted residuals. Our grandpa was somehow able to order a L72 big block Malibu with dog-dish wheels and no air conditioning. When we drive by the dealership, we see an endless sea of vehicles with infinite possibilities.
Now let’s get back to reality. As dealer personnel, we know that manufactures build what they want, when they want. Our dealers still shotgun it and order what they think people want. In all actuality, most customers have no idea what they really want. This is how many good salespeople make great careers by becoming a valuable resource to their customers, then their customers’ families and friends. They know all of the subtle intricacies and help their loyal customers select the right car.
Is there any reason why the digital-age should change this? Absolutely not! If a customer was sitting in front of you and asked if a Grand Cherokee had full-time four wheel drive, you’d explain the difference between Quadra-Trac I, Quadra-Trac II, and Quadra-Drive II. But somehow in the email world, the response is “…we have plenty of Grand Cherokees to choose from. When can you come to the dealership to drive one?” Why not just answer the question: “The new 2011 Grand Cherokee is equipped with three highly sophisticated AWD systems. Are you looking for something to take you through the snow or do you plan on going off-roading? I can walk you through which system might be right for you” (that response took 57 seconds to write). Which email do you think is going to solicit a response quicker?
Before you sell a car, you need to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment. If Toyota is not building Spruce Mica Tundras, let the customer know it. If Honda only ships two-wheel drive Pilots to your region, say so. If Fiestas with manual transmissions are in short supply, then give the customer a heads up. Facing these questions head-on allows you to build rapport, add value, and start a dialogue. It makes you that valuable resource, thus making it much easier to sell yourself, sell your dealership, and sell an appointment.
The next time a customer emails you a question, think about bumper cars. Imagine your competition driving away madly from potential customers, while you square up for a head-on collision. Think about what you know and what the customer doesn’t. Make yourself indispensable in the shopping process. Now take your right foot, slam down the pedal, and go in for the hit!